Thursday, March 22, 2012

THE ORDEAL OF HANA SHALABI: Medical Urgency and Spiritual Defiance

Richard Falk

The respected human rights NGOs, Addameer-Palestine and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, have expressed their deep concern for the mortal danger facing Hana Shalabi who continues her historic hunger strike to protest abuse that she experienced and her objections to the Israeli practice of prolonged detention without charges, without trial. There are reported to be currently as many as 24 other Palestinians in administrative detention that have declared their own hunger strike in solidarity with Hana Shalabi’s protest.

There are signs of growing expressions of global awareness and solidarity, including a vigil in Trafalgar Square on 23 March at 6:30 pm and Day of Action in Glascow, Scotland on the following day. There are new allegations that even in her present circumstances of clinging to life, she has been abused by prison authorities, and her family has been denied visitation rights. Her father, Yahya Shalabi, is quoted as saying, “My daughter sticks to her words and promises. She has committed to do this for herself and Palestine.” And Hana Shalabi has herself said of this sacrificial commitment, “[i]t is true that our lives are very precious, but our freedom is even more precious and more powerful than their cells.” Although Israeli newspapers refer to Hana Shalabi in the dehumanizing rhetoric of ‘a terrorist suspect’ without even acknowledging that a hunger strike is the absolute opposite of terrorism: it turns violence against the innocent self so as to illuminate the wrongs of the guilty other who is rendered exempted from physical harm, and to the extent that others are targets at all, it is in the form of extraordinary appeals to their consciousness and conscience. We all must not allow these acts of spiritual defiance be in vain. I am posting below the statement released by PHR-I two days ago and a revised version of an earlier post of mine that was published a few days earlier by Al Jazeera.


Full text of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel statement

On the 33rd day of her hunger strike, administrative detainee Hana Shalabi is in danger of imminent death

On the 33rd day of her hunger strike, administrative detainee Hana Shalabi is in danger of imminent death. An independent physician from Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-Israel) examined her today and determined that she must be hospitalized immediately

Physicians for Human Rights: the Prison Service treatment of Shalabi violates medical ethics

Hana Shalabi, an administrative detainee held at the Sharon Prison, has been on hunger strike for more than a month, in protest of her violent detention, the humiliating and hurtful search that was conducted on her upon her detention, and also in protest of being held in administrative detention. A hearing on her case is expected to be held at the military court.

This morning (March 19th) an independent physician visited Hana Shalabi on behalf of PHR-Israel, and she states that there has been a significant deterioration in her condition, and that she risks death. The deterioration is expressed in a process of muscle breakdown, with a weight loss of 14 kg (31 lb.) since the onset of the hunger strike, a very slow pulse, and a drop in blood sodium levels. These symptoms could indicate grave damage to the heart and the beginning of the breakdown of the heart muscle, which could lead to heart failure at any moment.

Additionally, her body temperature is low (hypothermia), recorded at 35.05C (95.09F), with Shalabi reporting that she feels cold. This finding indicates that the energy production in her body is mostly directed at the essential organs, which also indicates possible damage to the heart, which could be expressed in arrhythmia, systemic deterioration, or sudden death. The attending physician adds that Shalabi is not taking medications, has gone from ambulatory independence to being dependent on others for locomotion, and suffers from significant weakness, low blood pressure, serious pain throughout her body, significant sensitivity in her upper abdominal region, and serious dizziness.

The results of the blood test taken on March 14th indicate a drop in the levels of blood glucose and sodium, and damage to the thyroid functions. The thyroid plays a critical role in maintaining body temperature, as well as heart, liver, and brain function. Significant damage to the thyroid gland could lead to a coma, and this possibility is clearly present with regard to Shalabi. Additionally, blood work done today indicates disruption of the clotting functionality, and a significant lack of iron and vitamins.

Following her examination, the physician has determined that Shalabi is in immediate danger to her life, and recommended that she be transported to a hospital with no delay, for close supervision and follow-up. The Prison Service has announced that it has transported Shalabi to the Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba pursuant to the recommendation of the physician.

Physicians For Human Rights Israel today calls out the problematic conduct by the Israeli Prison Service in its treatment of Hana Shalabi:

* Great pressure is being exerted on Shalabi to stop the hunger strike, both by the Prison Service Ethics Committee and the Muslim cleric who is a member of that committee.

* The Chief Medical Officer for the Prison Service communicated with the PHR-I physician, asking that she persuade Shalabi to stop her strike. This clearly violates the principles of medical ethics.

* Hana’s communication with the PHR-I physician who is supposed to follow up closely on her health – is very limited. For example, when Shalabi asked to see the PHR-I physician last week, the Prison Service did not inform the physician of this request.

* The results of Shalabi’s blood tests, as communicated to the PHR-I physician last week, over a phone call with the Chief Medical Officer for the Prison Service, were found to be different from the printed results, which were sent from the lab and given to the PHR physician to review physically today. The results conveyed presented a different medical picture than that which actually existed in reality.

* It seems that the question of force-feeding has not been ruled out, and that the discussion of this matter continues in the Prison Service Ethics Committee.

* It appears that an attempt is being made to undermine Shalabi’s faith in the independent physician by presenting her with incorrect information. In the course of the physician’s examination today, Shalabi indicated that she had been told by the Prison Service representatives that the PHR independent physician had given the blood tests to the Prison Service, and that she did not wish to take them herself.

Physicians For Human Rights again expresses extreme concern for Hana Shalabi’s life. The organization expresses its dismay at the fact that medical teams are still considering the possibility of force-feeding her, despite the fact that international treaties prohibit this.

The organization calls upon the local and the international community to act immediately and intervene for the release of Shalabi, and to act to end Israel’s use of administrative detention.

For reports of prior examinations by the PHR physician see: March 13th.


On 23 February 2012 an administrative detention order for six months was issued for Ms. Hana Shalabi. On 29 February there was a hearing regarding her detention in Ofer military court. On 4 March the military court decided to reduce the detention period from six to four months, but without promising to extend or renew it. As a result, Ms. Hana Shalabi announced she would continue to hunger strike until her release. On 7 March, an appeal hearing regarding the court’s decision was held at Ofer, and the military judge ordered the parties to try and reach a compromise by Sunday 11 March, but no agreement has yet been reached.

Administrative detainees’ protests are growing. Two additional administrative detainees, Bilal Diab and Thair Halahleh declared hunger strikes on 1 March, which they claim will continue until their release from administrative detention. On 3 March, two other administrative detainees declared hunger strikes until their release. Since the beginning of March, a number of administrative detainees have refused to acknowledge the military court and refused to participate in legal hearings of their cases. Due to Israel’s use of administrative detention, and the unwillingness of the military court to interfere in this practice, a hunger strike serves as a non-violent and the sole tool available to administrative detainees to protest and fight for their basic human rights.

Approximately 309 Palestinians are currently held in administrative detention in Israeli prisons. Administrative detention allows Israel to hold detainees for indefinitely renewable six-month periods. The arrest is granted on the basis of “secret information” and without a public indictment. Therefore, administrative detainees and their lawyers cannot defend against these allegations in court.


Hana Shalabi: The Challenge of Palestinian Nonviolence

No sooner had Khader Adnan ended his 66-day, life threatening hunger strike than new urgent concerns are being voiced for Hana Shalabi, another West Bank hunger striker now without food for more than 34 days. With a grim irony there is continuity between these acts of spiritual defiance as both Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi have been held in the same room at the Ramleh Prison Hospital.

Both strikes are directed against the abusive use of administrative detention by Israeli West Bank occupying military forces, protesting both the colonial practice of internment without charges or trial and the degrading and physically harsh treatment administered during the arrest, interrogation, and detention process.

The case of Hana Shalabi should move even the hardhearted. She seems a sensitive and caring young woman of 29 who is a member of Islamic Jihad, and appears dedicated to her family, hopes for marriage, and such simple pleasures as shopping for clothes and home furnishings. She had previously been held in administrative detention at the HaSharon prison in Israel for a 30 month period between 2009 and 2011, being released in the prisoner exchange of four months ago that freed 1027 Palestinians and the lone Israeli soldier captive, Gilad Shalit. After her release, according to her mother, she spent weeks recovering from the deep sense of estrangement she experienced in prison, and rarely left her home or the company of her family. As she was returning to normalcy she was re-arrested in a highly abusive manner, which allegedly included a strip-search by a male soldier at the interrogation center and other behavior intended to humiliate and intimidate.

On February 16, 2012, the day of this renewal of her administrative detention, Hana Shalabi announced her resolve to start a hunger strike to protest her own treatment and to demand an end of administrative detention now relied upon by Israel to hold at least 309 Palestinian in prison. Her family has been denied visitation rights even in her present critical condition, Hana Shalabi was placed in solitary confinement at the outset of her detention, and her health has deteriorated to the point of severe concern for her health, even her life. According to her lawyer, Raed Mahameed, Hana Shalabi was examined by a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights and the doctor said that “she suffers from low heart beat rate, low blood sugar, loss of weight, weakness in muscles, yellowing of the eyes and high levels of salt in the blood which affected her kidneys causing her pain in her sides specially the left side as well as pain in chest bones. Physicians for Human Rights said that Shalabi cannot sleep because of pain, she also suffers dizziness and blurred and occasional loss of vision. Ms. Shalabi told Mahameed that she took salt last week but refused to take any salt since then and is living on two litres of water a day.”

Impressively, her parents have committed themselves to a sympathy hunger strike for as long as their daughter remains under administrative detention. Her mother, Badia Shalabi, has made a video in which she says that even to see food makes her cry considering the suffering of her daughter. Her father has likewise made a global appeal to save the life of his child.

Despite frequent mentoring to Palestinians from liberals in the West to rely on nonviolent tactics of resistance, these extraordinary hunger strikes have met with silence or indifference in both Israel and the West. Israeli authorities cynically declare that undertaking a hunger strike is a voluntary action and a publicity stunt for which they take no responsibility and that the striker is alone responsible if any harm results. There is also not a hint that Palestinian grievances about administrative detention are well founded and will even be considered much less acted upon. Such hardheartedness in the face of such sacrificial bravery is a sure sign that Israel is not ready for a sustainable and just peace with Palestine.

The UN also disappoints those who believe in its ideals. It has not raised its voice even to take notice of Hana Shalabi’s plight or Israeli accountability. I share the view of Khitam Saafin, Chairwoman of The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees: “The UN must be responsible for the whole violation that are going on against our people. These prisoners are war prisoners, not security prisoners, not criminals. They are freedom fighters for their rights.” The sad yet inspiring spiritual defiance of Hana Shalabi is also well expressed by Yael Maron, a spokesperson for the NGO, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel: “The story of Hana Shalabi, like that of Khader Adnan before, is in my opinion a remarkable example of a struggle that’s completely nonviolent towards one’s surroundings..It is the last protest a prisoner can make, and I find it brave and inspiring.”

To engage in an open ended hunger strike, especially for a person who is not in a leadership role, requires a deep and abiding dedication to right a perceived wrong of the greatest gravity. It is physically exceedingly painful and dangerous to bodily health, as well as being psychologically demanding in the extreme. It presupposes the strongest of wills, and usually arises, as in these instances, from a sense that any lesser form of resistance has proved futile, exhibiting a long record of failure. In the end, this unconditional hunger strike is an appeal to the conscience and humanity of the other, and a desperate call to all of us, to understand better the cartography of abuse that abusive imprisonment and occupation entails, which can only be pervasively humiliating for a religiously oriented young Islamic woman. To risk life and health in this way without harming or even threatening the oppressor is to turn terrorism against the innocent on its head. It is potentially to sacrifice one’s life to make an appeal of last resort, an appeal that transcends normal law and politics, and demands our response.

We can only fervently hope and pray that Hana Shalabi’s heroic path of resistance will end with her release and the complete restoration of her health. For Israel’s own moral wellbeing it is time, really long past time, to renounce reliance on administrative detention and to do more than this, to end forthwith its varied crimes of occupation. At this point the only possible way to do this is to withdraw unconditionally behind the 1967 borders, and to start peace negotiations from such an altered position of acknowledged wrongdoing without asking or expecting any reciprocal gesture from the Palestinian side. In the present atmosphere, it is politically unimaginable that Israeli leaders will heed such a call, but it is morally unimaginable that Israel will survive an impending spiritual collapse if it does not quickly learn to do so.

In the meantime, we who are beyond these zones of occupation, abuse, and imprisonment, must do more than stand and watch as this tragic drama plays itself out. We need to do all we can to strengthen the demands of Khader Adnan, Hana Shalabi, and all are refusing food in solidarity for the immediate release of all Palestinians currently held in administrative detention, for an end to detention without charges, to abusive arrests in the middle of the night, and beyond this, and to an end to an occupation that has lasted for 45 years with no end in sight.

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